SHOMA A.CHATTERJI | 1 OCTOBER, 2020
Enola Holmes - Smart and Delightfully Entertaining
After a long time, one gets to watch a delightful entertainer filled with mischief, action, a pinch of suggested romance and a smartness -both in cinematic technique as well as in narration in Enola Holmes, the film premiered last week on NETFLIX.
Enola Holmes was created by the very imaginative pen of American author Nancy Springer who drew out this 14-year-old kid sister of Sherlock Holmes and added sprightly new flesh and blood to the extension of the legendary Sherlock Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Enola is a teenaged girl and Springer created six different novels revolving around Enola and her detection and deciphering adventures targeted at young adults from 2006 to 2010. Enola evolves as a successful detective who specialises in working on missing persons and the film Enola Holmes is the celluloid presentation of the first novel in the series – The Case of the Missing Marquess.
Enola Holmes, the film, has been directed by Harry Bradbeer on a screenplay by Jack Thorne. Millie Bobby Brown in the title role is not only vivacious in a different way but is also a fun-loving, impish, but extremely intelligent girl who is trained as skilfully in jujutsu as she is in playing chess and has the best books of the world almost committed to memory.
Her teacher is her mother Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) a rebel in the early 20th century placed against the virulent passing of the Reform Act (1832) and the struggle for women’s suffrage among rebel groups who believed in granting women equal right to vote which led to the movement acquiring both strength and numbers much later from 1872.
Enola’s adventures begin when on her 16th birthday, she wakes up to find that her mother has disappeared and has left behind not only a monetary legacy for her daughter to fall back on but also cryptic puzzles for Enola in her search for her missing mother. But her two brothers, Mycroft (Sam Clavlin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill) who hardly know her, descend on her. Mycroft is given the responsibility of being his kid sister’s guardian which he begins to enforce with dictatorial stance from the word “go.”
Sherlock, however, is not bothered much this way or that but the clever and very naughty Enola manages to escape from Mycroft’s clutches and runs away from the train before they can push her into a finishing school for girls from aristocratic families. On the way, she meets a very effeminate-looking young man and the two decide to make it to London and then part ways. The young man turns out to be Viscount Tewkesberry (Louis Partridge) who has run away to escape being murdered for several reasons.
What this critic found surprising is the very non-conformist thoughts of the very young Enola whose name spelt in reverse means “alone”. She claims that she does not need the support of anyone and can do everything alone. But though her mother has brought her up to become a rough and tough girl, she is innocent of the ways of the world so both brothers try to be protective which she does not like at all.
Mycroft puts her forcibly in a finishing school where we watch a hilarious display of the extremely patriarchal practices forced on young girls from aristocratic families to ready them for matrimony. They are taught to laugh silently covering their mouths with their palms and if loudly, how it must be measured in volume, rhythm, pitch and expression, walk together, wear a uniform, eat with the cutlery placed and used just so plus.
As if this is not enough, they must learn “womanly crafts” like embroidery, knitting lace, making dolls, and shaping their figures with the terribly tight corsets. The girls do not seem to have any complaints about this training so deeply have they imbibed the conditioning.
But Enola neither knows these skills nor has any intention to, so she does what she is best at – running away and using her jujutsu and other martial arts training apart from suddenly cooking up strange disguises to run away mainly from her guardian brother Mycroft. She meets Tewkesberry during her sojourns and though the young man is smitten by this unusual girl with radical training they part in the end after Elona solves her first case and sees Tewkesberry restored to his royal position and is free to vote to get the Reforms Bill passed and made into law.
Sherlock is marginalised in this scenario but at least he becomes aware of his kid sister’s talents and intelligence, accepts this and presents a much more sobered version of the arrogant and self-complacent Holmes we know. He takes over the guardianship from his older brother.
One meets the most handsome Shylock among all the celluloid, OTT and television versions of Shylock Holmes and one tends to get mesmerised by his amazingly good looks though he does not get as much cinematic space as we would have loved. Mycroft, on the other hand, has been reduced to a villain almost which veers away from Springer’s original creation.
But no worries, Millie Bobby Brown takes your breath away with her vivacious, naively innocent beauty, her free spirit, her easy camaraderie and her ability to hoodwink her chasers even when she is caught. Her “innocence” and naiveté are just the surface of the sharply intelligent girl who can easily solve the riddles her mother left behind and other riddles too and decides to become a detective.
As one of her mother’s friends points out to her “you are not looking for your mother, you are looking for yourself” referring to her constant struggle to find her feet in a London that is far distanced from the London she had heard of and read in books. When once, Sherlock questions their mother’s desire to change the world, Enola’s prompt answer is, “maybe, the world needs changing.” Sherlock has no answer.
The visual beauty of the English landscape is fleshed out captivatingly by Giles Nutgens as we watch Enola jump out of a speeding train into the greenery below followed by Tewkesberry to save themselves from the villain set up to capture and kill the young Viscount. This is juxtaposed against the streets of London filled with women’s homes, offices, busy streets with daily workers and vendors, and every kind of men and women Enola has ever seen.
The editing keeps pace with the dynamic action of the film as it switches over to the Viscount’s lavish palace to the green grounds with a sort of tree-house that has seen better days, to the long corridors of the finishing school where the principal collaborates in the plan to spoil Enola’s attempts to flee.
The music is wonderful too and all this ends up in becoming a wonderfully entertaining package. The feminist messages are subtle yet strong as that is not what the film is about. But it throws up a glimpse of the rebellious young girl who will not conform to anything forced on her that she does not agree with.
Great opening, raising hopes for the next ones to come. And I tip my hat to the amazing Millie Bobby Brown.
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